Can justice ever be equated with vindictiveness and retribution?

I have been closely following the highly emotive events surrounding the trial and conviction of socialite, Ghislaine Maxwell, who was found guilty by a US court, on 29 December 2021, of five counts relating to sexual abuse of girls committed in the 1990s.

Tendai Ruben Mbofana 

She was a close ally of disgraced alleged pedophile and sex-trafficker, Jeffrey Epstein – who ostensibly, committed suicide on 10 August 2019, while in custody awaiting trial for these crimes – and, was widely accused for facilitating the recruitment and trafficking of these young girls (who were usually still in their teens) for Epstein and his fellow colleagues’ depraved sexual pleasure.

The most well-known of these colleagues is UK’s Prince Andrew, Duke of York (Queen Elizabeth II and the late Prince Phillip’s third child) – who was a few days ago stripped of his royal titles as an embarrassing fall out from the allegations of sexual abuse being leveled against him, since a recent US court ruling paved the way for a civil lawsuit to proceed against him.

I was also reminded of the #MeToo movement (founded by Tarana Burke, but became a social media phenomenon in October 2017) – in which, those who had been sexually abused, mainly by famous celebrities, some decades ago, finally bravely stood up, and spoke out, against their abusers – resulting in the fall of some renowned personalities as Harvey Weinstein and Bill Cosby.

Another incident that came to my mind was the fiercely divisive debate over the suitability of Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination by then US president Donald Trump to the Supreme Court bench in 2018 – which ignited accusations of sexual harassment, most notably by Christine Blasey Ford, over an incident that occurred whilst still in school, between 1979 and 1983.

Although, Kavanaugh was finally appointed as judge of the apex court – after an intense and highly emotional enquiry by the US Senate, which largely pitted Republicans against Democrats – the country was left deeply divided.

As these events played out in the global media over the past few years, I could not help being taken back to my own harrowing sexual abuse which I was repeatedly subjected to in my early childhood (at the ages of six and seven years between 1979 and 1980) by an older relative, whom we resided with and shared a bedroom – which, obviously, explains my interest in these cases.

However, there was one thing that kept haunting me, which I found (and still find) deeply disturbing more than anything else.

I could not help wondering whether all these cases, which had gripped the attention of the entire world, were really about justice – or, was this about vindictiveness and retribution?

I had to put myself in the picture, and imagine how (for instance) I would react if I learnt that the person who had repeatedly sexually abused me, at my most timid and vulnerable in 1979 and 1980, had been promoted to an influential position of power.

Surely, would I stand against, and fiercely oppose, such a move – either under the pretext of seeking justice for my own horrendous ordeal, or painting the individual as unsuitable based on what they did forty years ago?

Would that not plainly be vindictive of me?

As a matter of fact, as a human race, should forgiveness and love not be our most defining features – which differentiate us from other lower and more primitive species?

To be honest, I have long forgiven (and, hold no resentment or hurt) the person who sexually abused me all those decades ago – and, as relatives, we are quite close.

Furthermore, having also endured bullying at school – ironically, at the very time I was being sexually abused at home – some of those former bullies are now my friends on social media.

That is just how I believe life should be about.

Actually, whenever I have mentioned these personal incidents in my writings, it has never been in the form of anger and vindictiveness – but simply, how such most unfortunate experiences molded in me a loathing of injustice, and taught me to fiercely stand up against bullying of any form.

Even as a very vocal social justice activist – who has loudly spoken out against the ruthless and brutal oppression and human rights abuses cruelly perpetrated by Zimbabwe’s ruling elite against a defenceless and vulnerable citizenry – my message has never been of vindictiveness and retribution.

How I perceive justice is akin to a big person who callously steps onto the foot of someone weaker – causing so much pain and intense discomfort.

As a social justice activist, my cry would be for the bigger person to take his foot off the other – so that the excruciating pain and suffering may end.

However, I will not proceed to advocate for that big person to be arrested or even meted out with instance justice – more so, pursuing the case long after the fact.

That is why, after Robert Gabriel Mugabe was finally toppled in a military coup d’etat in November 2017 – a man, whose cold-blooded and villainous tyrannical rule I condemned over a course of 26 years – I never called upon his imprisonment.

For me, the fact that he was no longer able to hurt anyone anymore was good enough – I do not hate the late Mugabe, neither do I harbour any ill-will against the current Zimbabwe regime.

All I want is for them to stop their repression of the population, and looting of the country’s resources – which has caused such untold suffering and indescribable impoverishment amongst the citizenry.

I honestly believe that our anger and vindictiveness as a human race is why we are always at each other’s throats – as there will always be a side that strongly believes it is the aggrieved, and is justifiably within its rights to seek retribution.

Besides, what makes anyone think that they themselves are blameless and without sin, having never wronged anyone else – as such, not deserving of the same vindictiveness and retribution, which we love calling “justice”?

As one singer once sang, “an eye for an eye will leave the world blind” – we, as human race, now need to be ruled by love, whereby forgiveness is a trait we should readily embrace and cherish.

Being led by anger, no matter how understandably hurt we were, has never brought any real justice – but instead, only manages to delay our own personal healing, and ingraining the trauma of our past experiences even deeper – thereby, crippling us in our lives.

© Tendai Ruben Mbofana is a social justice activist, writer, and social commentator. Please feel free to contact him on WhatsApp/Call: +263715667700 / +263782283975, or Calls Only: +263788897936 / +263733399640, or email: [email protected]

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